Talks held over securing vital consultant for Shropshire
Talks are being held in a bid to secure a vital consultant which could halt the threat hanging over Telford's A&E department, a health boss has revealed.
Simon Wright, chief executive of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), said bosses were in talks with a locum doctor who they hope will step into the role of being a substantive consultant.
The trust, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Telford's Princess Royal Hospital, had put in place a contingency plan to close Telford's A&E overnight, for up to two weeks, if a substantive consultant cannot be recruited on the rota.
It comes after a consultant resigned, leaving bosses worried about the safety implications of keeping both of the county's A&E departments open 24-hours-a-day.
The deadline to recruit was missed at the start of the month, but Mr Wright said steps were being put in place to protect the service.
During a meeting of Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council's joint health overview and scrutiny committee yesterday, Mr Wright said talks were now progressing with a locum who they believe could fill the role.
He told the committee: "We are currently in dialogue with one individual who we are hoping will transfer across to us and join our substantive consultant group.
"Those conversations are progressing well."
Speaking about if an agreement is reached, Mr Wright said: "In terms of the rota that still gives us some fragility but it does mean we can continue our services.
"Clearly what we do need to see is an increase in the number of substantive consultants."
He said the trust is asking NHS Improvement for help in hopes of securing two more substantive consultants before next winter.
The committee heard that SaTH is also due to take on six emergency care practitioners – a mixture of nurses and paramedics – who will help ease the pressure in A&E.
They are expected to start by the end of April, bringing the number of emergency care practitioners at the trust up to 11.
Emergency care practitioners generally come from a background in paramedicine and most have additional academic qualifications, usually at university, with enhanced skills in medical assessment and extra clinical skills over and above those of a standard paramedic, qualified nurse or other ambulance crew such as technicians.
Mr Wright also reiterated that there was 'no desire or intention to reduce or close any part of our A&E departments'.
The accident and emergency departments have been under extreme pressure over the winter period.
In January, the trust was ranked the worst in the country for its A&E waiting times.
Around a third of patients had to wait longer than the four-hour government target, according to figures from NHS England.
Mr Wright said the trust had been 'overwhelmed' and there had been a bed shortage.
He said there had been more flu patients and the cold weather had been harsh on those with respiratory problems.
Patient discharge has also posed a problem and the committee was told processes surrounding it were being scrutinised.
SaTH has been struggling to recruit doctors for its A&E departments, with health chiefs citing it as one of the main reasons for its desire to create one emergency centre at Shrewsbury as part of the Future Fit health review.
The future of hospital services in the county is in the hands of NHS England, which wants to know funding is available before a public consultation can be held on the planned shake-up.
Mr Wright confirmed in the meeting that there had still been no news on whether the go-ahead will be given.
The preferred Future Fit option which has been put forward by Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin clinical commissioning groups includes siting the county's emergency department at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.
Under that model, Telford's PRH would take on responsibility for providing planned care.
The second option would be for PRH to house Shropshire's emergency department and for RSH to become the planned care site.
Both hospitals would have an urgent care centre.
Health bosses have said that consultant-led women and children's services would have to be on the same site as the emergency department.
However, a range of women and children's services would still be available on the other site, including a midwife-led unit.
Doctors based at the hospitals have previously said that 'doing nothing is not an option' and that services need to be changed to make the hospitals sustainable for the future.
Chiefs hope the changes will make it easier to recruit and keep staff.